In the last issue, I looked at Macromedia's Flash, a program that allows you to do animation for the Web. This month, I tested out Totally Hip Software's WebPainter, a program with the same general purpose as Flash, but aimed at a different market. While Flash works with vector-based images and allows a considerable amount of interactivity for a rather high price; WebPainter allows you to easily create GIF animations, and is inexpensive, but lacks the interactivity and more professional look that Flash is capable of.
If you already have a program like Photoshop, the first question that comes in mind is, "Why would I use WebPainter if I have Photoshop and the freeware GifBuilder?". Well, it's basically the two programs in one, with advanced features to maintain more control over your animation, retouch your drawings without going back and forth from one program to another, export your files in many different formats, and the ability to use one of their 250 "Hip Clips"! So, if you currently lack graphic software and all you want to do is create GIF animations, WebPainter may be the only program you will ever need.
I was not able to take a look atWebPainter 2.0, which is being release just as this issue is being published. However, I can say that the upgraded version will include new help files and tutorials, 500 sample animations, and a new users manual.
WebPainter has a very comprehensive set of painting tools, including shapes, spray can, brushes, smudging, magic wand, paint bucket, ruler, measurement, etc. There will be an improved zoom feature and a new intuitive palette design (three for all the tools) in the new 2.0 version. Also, a "free transform" tool will be added, in which you'll be able to scale, rotate, add perspective, skew and distort with one tool, just like in Photoshop 4.0.
Animation tools: The "onion-skinning" feature is used for checking the current frame against both the previous frame and the one following, in the same way that an animator does with his drawings on a light box. There are both static and animated layer modes, for animating an image on a static background layer. This is an easy and fast way to add, remove, duplicate, move and access a frame cel.
Good control of Gif Animation export: For each frame, you can control the speed and transparency. You can also wait for user input, or specify how a frame should be removed after it has been displayed (leave the current graphic, erase it or partially erase it).
Control of the overall animation: The program offers choices of color palette, bit depth (to control the file quality and size), choice of a color for the transparency, and frame-per-second (fps) setting. Version 2.0 will also include "GiffyView," a viewer used to preview the animation at different connection speeds (14.4, 28.8 and ISDN), which provides you with statistics to help you to decide upon the best settings for your animation.
Gif, PICS, PICT, Windows Bit Map, AVI Movies, and QuickTime files can be imported into the program. Export choices: Gif Animation, Gif or PICT files, Windows Bit Map, QuickTime Movies, AVI Movies, Sizzler, Java. For Gif animation, Sizzler and Java, an HTML code is provided to embed it on your page. JPEG & PNG (Portable Network Graphics format) import and export will be added to version 2.0. Also, it will be possible to "batch open" files to import many files at the same time and "import" and "export" will be replaced simply by "open" and "save as".
A Word on Sizzler.
Sizzler is a piece of freeware from Totally Hip, distributed online and via the WebPainter CD-ROM. Sizzler will turn your Gif animation into a "sprite" file that can be viewed with a plug-in. What does this add? It puts your animation into a streaming format, which allows it to be directly displayed with no download time, even with big files. At first, the animations have poor quality, but it does improve by the time it downloads. Another cool thing thatSizzler does, is allow you to embed a sound clip in your animation and make it into a button. The problem with Sizzler is that the viewer needs to have a plug-in, unless you make it into a Java file; in that case, the user needs a Java capable browser. Also, the interactivity is quite limited. Bottom line: It's easy, it's cheap, and if you're new to animating on the Web, go for it. If you're looking for advanced animation capabilities, it can be useful for certain tasks (it'll replace your GifBuilder), but you'll need to go to Shockwave. Examples of Gif animation and Sizzler can be seen on the Totally Hip Web site at http://www.totallyhip.com. WebPainter 2.0 is available for Windows 95/NT, Macintosh and Power Macintosh. Until June 11, it is being sold at US$49.00, then it will be priced at $99.00. It should be available at retail, via mail order, and on-line shops. You can also get a 30 day free downloadable trial version at http://www.totallyhip.com/. Guillaume Calop is AWN's Webmaster and is Animation World Magazine's Technical Editor.